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Friends and foes en route (Mackay to Airlie Beach)

We left Mackay and travelled the long but quiet route to Calen, witnessing more ill-effects of the sugar industry.

Dispersed beside the monocultural fields we found plants that have no economic or ecological status, such as these health-giving sow thistles (eat the young tender less bitter leaves),

guava (this is the largest fruit we’ve seen so far, measuring 80mm in length, and oh so delicious!),

and public citrus. (If you’re in the air when you pick private fruit does that make it public??)

We got a bike-eye view of sugar processing, which confirmed our resolve to remain a processed-sugar-free family (which means not purchasing the great majority of supermarket items),

as we travelled along the cane fields,

and beside the cane trains that were busily moving Australia’s obesity epidemic around in little carts.

We travelled the Mirani – Mt Ossa Road west of Mackay until we got to Boulder Creek,

where Jeanie and Peppe, our Warm Showers hosts in Mackay, had suggested we camp. We’re glad they did. Thanks J and P! The water was pristine and we refilled our bottles with this dynamic, autonomous mountain brew (there’s not many places left in Australia where the water hasn’t been polluted by conventional agriculture).

We met a bunch of unruly free campers at Boulder Creek, and we shared stories about our respective communities and where we are heading before it was time to take to the road, once again under Queensland’s mid-winter sky.

These quiet roads really are a blessing. Our senses are alive with the absence of motorised transport.

Collecting free citrus in the region is also an absolute treat, and there’s no shortage.

In this little public park at Calen, just before we returned to the Bruce Highway, we helped ourselves to free oranges, bush lemons and grapefruits, as well as free power, recharging our devices behind the public toilet block while we feasted.

Not far north of Calen we spotted for the first time these cluster figs (Ficus racemosa),

a well-known bush food of northern Australia, which also grows in India and South-east Asia. When ripe they turn soft, orange and then red, and have a similar texture to commercially-grown figs, only less sweet to taste. They were lovely to eat but a week or more ripening time would have produced a better result.

After nearly nine months of cycle touring we have seen hundreds of snakes on the road. All of them dead, until now. This lively black snake went to cross the Road of Death just south of Bloomsbury, then decided against it, possibly after sensing the hysterical vibrations of Zero’s barking. Needless to say we quickly tethered Zero, snake bite being a common cause of death for Jack Russells.

Later in the day we passed another couple of road-killed snakes, several birds of prey, a grass owl, countless kangaroos and wallabies and this little quoll.

We took a few side quiet roads into Bloomsbury and discovered this very interesting vine:

the elephant creeper (Argyreia nervosa), aka Hawaiian baby woodrose, Adhoguda, woolly morning glory, elephant climber, elephant ear vine or silver morning glory. This plant may have been introduced by Aborigines on their route from India thousands of years ago, however some botanists believe it is a relative newcomer and an invasive weed. An ancient healing plant, the seeds are said to be psychoactive, producing similar effects as LSD. We just need a baby-sitter for several hours so we can investigate…

We stopped for the night in Bloomsbury, knocking on the principal’s door of the local primary school to ask permisssion to camp the night. Sam, the school’s delightful principal, whole-heartedly agreed and offered us use of the staff’s bathroom and shower. Blessed warm water and a quiet place (after hours) to lay our heads. Thanks Sam!

For all the interrupting death we witnessed the day before on the Bruce, we instead found abundant life living among the sugarcane wastelands the next day, riding towards Proserpine.

Magpie geese eggs are certainly something we’d like to try, but will have to seek permission from local Indigenous elders before we do.

We spotted the magpie geese at Deadman Creek, just south of Proserpine, on the way to Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays,

another painfully beautiful area on the east coast of Australia done over by rampant corporate-bogan tourism,

with absolutely no evidence or recognition of the original culture, the Ngaro people, to be seen anywhere.

It was in Airlie Beach that we met up with community friends from Daylesford, and shared a camping ground site with them. We had four lovely days with Fiona, Tim and their kids Max and Rose, sharing meals, walks into town and along the beach,

and conversations about our respective research. Tim is currently working on the Healing Ground project, a work combining photography and oral history, recording Indigenous massacre sites and stories from around Australia from the descendants of those who suffered. Please support Tim’s project if you have a spare $20 or $50, or whatever you can.


Myall Creek Gallery Piece from Tim Burder on Vimeo.

We enjoyed our time with Tim and Fiona’s happy tribe, unclipping our heavy panniers to explore the coastline,

went fishing (Well done Max! Catching your first haul of fish, feeding your family and friends at age 9 is no small feat),

and generally took in the sea.

Thanks for reading this little leg. We’ll see you in Townsville…

Our medicine is free and found in both our food and physicality (from Bundaberg to Gladstone)

The days here in Queensland have been sunny and warm but the nights very cool. Before we left Bundaberg we went op-shoping for some warmer clothes. Woody scored this great vest.

Outside an opshop we met Clint, a local Kalki man. We got talking about bush food and he noticed Woody’s amber teething necklace. He told us that witchetty grubs (Endoxyla leucomochla) are a natural anaesthetic and that teething babies were traditionally fed the grubs to numb the gums. Clint also told us he is a kind of pastor but that he didn’t need to preach to us because we already knew our path. That path, for now, continues north on some quieter roads.

Building knowledge on the life forms around us that provide food fit for human consumption free of monetary interference and ecological damage is another path we’re simultaneously following. Finding ripe passion fruits fallen onto public land on the outskirts of Bundy may not seem like much,

but first sights can be deceiving.

We had a quiet ride to Avondale passing more of Queensland’s great obesity fields,

but we skipped on the pesticidal cane, picking roadside citrus instead.

When we arrived in the one-pub locality of Avondale we had Zero’s basket half-filled with autonomous medicine,

and we were greeted with the prospect of a free camping spot and shower.

Not only is Avondale generous to travellers, it is also good to itself, recognising that community protection from greed and ecological intransigence is sound, long-term thinking.

We found a kitchen bench and got on with preparing dinner with some store-bought produce.

We woke with the sun after our first night’s sleep in our new tents. After many years of camping, the old ones had become irreparable. We donated them to a Bundy opshop as they would be great as children’s cubbies.

We started the day by collecting onions that had fallen off the back of a truck. No, really! Out of all the conventionally-grown vegies and fruits, according to the US Environmental Working Group, onions are the least contaminated with pesticide residue. For dumpster divers and others who rely on conventionally-grown foods this list is probably as good a guide as any.

Various autonomous species have accompanied us along the roads from central Victoria such as the scavenger ravens and crows. But this mushroom, Pisolithus sp. is one of the hardiest of them all. The preferred medium on which it builds its life is bitumen and its spores are carried by motorists, trucks and more than likely the humble treadlie.

We arrived in Rosedale a few days too early for Friday night bingo,

pitched our tents at the Ivan Sbresni Oval,

and while we brewed a billy, Zero got to work flushing out some local rabbits.

While he continued to hunt we processed his game, these non-industrial gifts of the land, as both food and textile.

We skinned and salted the pelts and poached the meat briefly,

before removing the bones and tossing the tender meat through a pasta dish of raw chopped garlic, olive oil, salt, kale and zucchini.

The next morning Woody had a lesson on herbivore dung recognition, an education in craps, scats and animal fats,

before we hitched up our gear, set a drying rack for the pelts,

and again drank the sun north. Another autonomous species which has become a favourite free food since Kempsey is the cut-and-come-again guava, which never seems to stop fruiting.

Just when we thought the season had ended, along comes another tree laden. This harvest was made just south of the micro town of Lowmead.

In this area the land was no longer flat and caney, but undulating and scrubby.

These country roads have been a pleasure to ride, and even though the townships themselves offer little cultural nourishment,

generosity always sticks its head out. The hotel staff kindly let us recharge our batteries while we had a beer and got talking to some of the locals. Brett, a retired army man, took us across the road to a friend’s house so as we could collect mandarins from her garden, and the pub was giving away grapefruit from another local’s tree.

We were going to camp at Lowmead but Brett told us about a free campsite 17 kms away on the Bruce Highway and we still had the afternoon to play. He warned us that the road to the highway was partly unsealed but not too rough. The complete lack of traffic was wonderful.

We arrived at the highway campsite to this laden orange tree to complete our three-day catch of free and preventative medicines.

But just to be sure we had enough vitamin C we gathered and hoed down a handful of chickweed that was growing at the rest area.

After little sleep (how have we made the same mistake twice to camp beside the Bruce?) we returned to the intense highway,

and rode to Miriam Vale where we discovered a little knowledge regarding some of the bush tuckers we’ll likely see more of as we continue north.

While exploring the public gardens Woody asked for his favourite bush tucker to chew on – the starchy base of lomandra leaves.

A little on the nose we booked a cheap room in the Miriam Vale Hotel, which came with a gorgeous view.

We had a 50 km ride to Tannum Sands, with little on the way to hold our attention, or time,

except of course for the inevitable memorials, which kept coming at phenomenal rates.

We arrived in the late afternoon. Patrick went for a spearfish, returning fishless and blue from the cold ocean. Near where we were to camp at Canoe Point we spotted this fine creature,

the Australian brushturkey (Alectura lathami), which according to another Indigenous man, Barry Miller, who we also met back in Bundaberg, is really good tucker. Woody took his afternoon nap while the rest of us went about our business.

We cooked dinner and waited for dark before we set up camp.

Having earlier seen a council warning sign we went to bed a little nervous about crocodiles, but after some cursory phone research we discovered attacks by crocs in Australia have only occurred in or on the edge of water, never through a tent and never this far south. We awoke to a beautiful, unlawful camp ground,

and conceptually snubbed our noses at all the rip-off caravan park operators in the country wanting to charge us $40 a night for a patch of dead ground near a toilet block surrounded by caravans and motor homes.

From Tannum Sands we looked across the water to the Boyne Smelters, one of the industries that has made the small city of Gladstone momentarily affluent and no doubt permanently toxic.

For the next two nights we stayed with couchsurfing host Mike Koens. Mike lives just outside Gladstone with his housemate Paul, dog Rocko and three cats Girlfriend, Boyfriend and Thor. Mike works for Boyne Smelters as an air-conditioning and refrigeration man.

He told us that Gladstone’s mining boom is well and truly over, the housing market has slumped and he has begun his own transition to a more environmental life, collecting solar radiation and water from his roof, growing his own wood to heat his house and starting to grow his own food.

While we stayed with Mike we helped him turn his soil, removing couch grass from where his crops will soon thrive. We also helped him chop wood and we cooked for him. It’s no accident that synthetic medicine goes hand in hand with industrial food and energy. The pharmaceutical industry thrives on an unwell population that eats empty and lifeless food and uses cars for all travel.

“Is there anything you might do today,” the writer Padgett Powell timely asks of us, “that would distinguish you from being just a vessel of consumption and pollution with a proper presence in the herd?” Yes there is Padgett, thanks for asking.

Autonomous foods of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island)

One rule he [Oodgeroo’s father] told us we must strictly obey. When we went hunting, we must understand that our weapons were to be used only for the gathering of food. We must never use them for the sake of killing. This is in fact one of the strictest laws of the Aborigine, and no excuse is accepted for abusing it. –– Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Minjerribah elder)

We have had a wonderful week and more on Minjerribah, sampling Quandamooka bush tucker and being the biological (not chemical) controls of more newly naturalised autonomous foods (agricultural weeds, etc.), while hiding out in the bush.

It is early winter on the island and at this time of year, like home in cold highlands Victoria, chickweed (Stellaria media) commonly appears, packed with vitamin C at a time when it is most needed. Clover is also pictured below and is also edible in salads; the flowers used for tea.

And while chickweed is just appearing we foraged the last of the season’s apple guavas (Psidium guajava),

and midjim (Austromyrtus dulcis) berries.

Even though none of the delicious red sweet-salty fruits of pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens) were about, some flowers were present,

and biting the base of these flowers, where the fruits will later form, can offer some small delight.

Like home, black nightshade (Solanum nigram) berries enjoy the cooler weather, a favourite of Woody’s on the island.

And we tried beach flax lily (Dianella congesta) berries and weren’t unimpressed, even though the Quandamooka people apparently didn’t eat this food.

We cooked fish with Indigenous spinach (Tetragonia tetragoniodes),

and succulent purslane (Portulaca oleracea), otherwise known as pigweed.

And we tried chewing the ripe fruits of Pandanus (P. tectorius),

at first raw, which irritated our throats, then roasted on coals, with wave-washed-in pilchards (Sardinops neopilchardus).

We sucked the sweetness out of the pandanus kernels after they were roasted for about 15 minutes. Although a modest pleasure, we think there must be a better technique to eating this food and getting more from it. If anyone has any suggestions please let us know.

Fish we speared included grey mowrang (Nemadactylus douglasii) and a number of sand whiting (Sillago ciliata),

and fish we caught by rod and line also included sand whiting and a new one for us, swallowtail dart (Trachinotus coppingeri). A surprising delicacy, easy to catch, tasting even better than the whiting, which is an excellent eating fish as well.

We met Megan from Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation and she generously passed on the knowledge required for eugarie or pipi (Plebidonax deltoides) gathering and cooking. We walked for a few kilometres down Main Beach with our dandelion root foraging tool, setting off an hour before low tide. Then suddenly,

small mounds began appearing,

and lo and behold, eugaries!

We harvested enough for lunch and some for the evening’s fishing.

Megan told us the best way to cook them was straight on the coals of a small campfire. This really was a Minjerribah treat.

Other autonomous edibles we foraged on the island included common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus),

wandering jew (Commelina diffusa),

and cobbler’s peg (Bidens pilosa), otherwise known as farmer’s friend. Eating the leaves raw provides a good source of calcium, potassium, iron, vitamin C, chlorophyll and magnesium.

We’ll be sad to leave this beautiful island, but we’ll take with us many delightful experiences.

Mixing it with the northerners (from Lawrence to Iluka)

We had three wet, windy but nonetheless restful days in Lawrence.

Our tents took a battering from two large storms but we remained fairly dry and warm. We fished catching only undersized bream (Abramis) from the Clarence,

and we learnt about these relative newcomers, cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis), which are the smallest species of egret that live in this region.

This country is blessed with a diversity of bird life no longer seen in most parts of the world, and every morning we wake in some bird-rich neighbourhood singing their praises. But this region around Lawrence is even more exceptional for its bird life. Hundreds of feathered species live here as permanents or seasonal migrants, and all day their activity is pronounced in this quiet little town.

We made long leisurely walks and picked a belly full of guavas,

from this guy’s paddock,

which we woofed down with grunting rigour.

We tried some local cumbungi (Typha), from a roadside bourgie café, but found it was a little stringy at this time of year.

While in Lawrence pecans and guavas were our greatest finds,

and with local bananas and farm gate cucumber they made a fine start to the day.

After breakfast and after drying out the tents we departed Lawrence by catching the ferry punt across the Clarence.

We passed a barn that seemed to be in hiding, or was it just shy?

We passed houses that were being retrofitted for the aggregating effects of climate change – people are preparing even though their governments, who could greatly help mitigate the effects, are not.

We spotted a Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) that, like the beginnings of the sugar cane monocultures just south of Lawrence, signifies we are entering the north of Australia.

We arrived in Maclean to a spot of op-shopping (undies for Woody and some local pickles),

and looked for a place to camp. But none availed in Maclean so we rode on to Yamba, found a site on Hickey Island and moved in.
Looks magical doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled by the frame you’re peering through, this image doesn’t reveal the millions of tiny predators that all vied for our blood from the moment we arrived. This is more the reality:

If you’re not used to them, like us, sandfly bites are extremely itchy. Mozzies are definately preferred. We tried to forget both despite their large numbers in Yamba and headed along to the mid-weekly farmer’s market where we bought garlic, corn, zucchini, capsicum and a few of these old variety cucumbers.

In the public park where the markets were held we discovered pandanus fruit (Pandanus tectorius), parts of which are edible when roasted and parts can be eaten raw. A fruit we’re eager to try once we come across a ripe one.

Yamba also boasts edible community gardens throughout its streets, encouraging people to pick the herbs, fruits and vegetables growing there.

We like Yamba but felt we couldn’t camp another night because of the insect life, and so we decided to catch the ferry over to Iluka and ride 15 kms north to Woombah, where Deanne, the sister of the delightful Sonia who we met back in Avoca, was offering us hospitality. We had a few hours before the next ferry, so we set up a Woody nap tent in a local park (to say the mozzies swarmed here is no exaggeration),

while Patrick visited the local bike shop, as the tandem was having problems again. Bill from Xtreme Cycle and Skate took the rear wheel axle apart but didn’t have the right size cassette pawls to replace the ones he discovered were damaged. The tandem was still rideable though and we thought it could make it to a bike shop in Ballina. Despite his time and effort, and giving us a place to charge our phone, Bill refused payment. Thanks so much Bill!

We rolled onto the ferry and were greeted by the effervescent Linda, who accommodated a family on extra long bikes with great enthusiasm.

By the end of the ferry trip Linda had offered us her granny flat in Iluka. We were extremely grateful because the tandem didn’t last the short ride to Linda’s before it became unrideable. We were grateful too for a warm shower, something we hadn’t had for a week. Thanks for ferrying us to your sanctuary, Linda!

So, we were in Iluka, being hosted by a lovely lady and her son, Nicholas, with everything we required

except a particular bike part for a particularly uncommon bike. It was then that we sensed again our significant dependance on industrialised travel: the need for a specific bike part and a car, loaned to us by the lovely Deanne, to head into Lismore to obtain it. While driving there we passed a cycle tourer and were mortified that we were not, for this moment of the trip, part of his community. We discovered in Lismore that our bike problem was bigger than we thought, and we were going to have to wait several days, so we set about looking for some good food to stock up on,

with minimal packaging. Linda kindly offered us the flat until the bike was sorted. These forced stoppages certainly do work for us. We are able to rest now in beautiful Iluka, joining Woody for midday sleeps and taking walks through the Bundjalung rainforest that is home to these incredible public composting toilets,

(talk about biomimicry!), and walk across the rocks at low tide at Iluka Bluff in Yaegl country.

Without these forced stops we have the tendency to keep moving because there is nothing quite like having all that you need attached to your bike and taking off into the unknown again and again.

This life is becoming very addictive.

Home on the road (goodly relations from Taree to Coffs Harbour)

We stayed in Taree for a night at a fairly forgettable caravan park (our first in months), legged it to Queens Lake and free camped by the water’s edge for a brief dusk-to-dawn stay.

Zeph did the maths and calculated the sum we would pay if we stayed in caravan parks every night for our year on the road. It was $14,600, averaging $40 a night, just for a patch of ground to pitch our tents. Australia really is one continuous rip off if you follow the rules. We faced an 80 km ride to Kempsey to visit our dear friend Brett – our longest day in the saddle so far. Brett is temporarily back from doing volunteer work in Lebanon with Médecins Sans Frontières Australia, and as luck would have it, our timing aligned.

When Brett lived in Daylesford we did loads of great stuff together, including getting Daylesford Community Food Gardens and Critical Mass Daylesford up and cycling.

Brett’s family home sits just above the Macleay River,

and we were able to go out fishing for bass,

or just for pleasure.

While staying with Brett and his brother Kurt, we borrowed their scales to weigh our bikes, gear and ourselves.

One of the many common questions we get asked on the road is how heavy are the bikes?, so using Brett and Kurt’s scales we thought we’d find out.

We had three gentle, restorative days with Brett and Kurt before reloading the bikes for more northerly drifting. Thanks so much brothers love!

We meandered back to the coast through beautiful country following the Macleay River. Where we stopped to buy some farm gate produce we caught on camera Zeph losing control of Meg’s bike, which with Woody (12 kg) and without Meg (50 kg) weighs nearly 80 kg, demonstrating that our so-called drift requires quite some effort.

We rode into South West Rocks and arrived on dusk,

foraged dinner at the local fish and chippery, munched on our fresh farm gate goodies to top us up, set up camp down a bush track by torchlight and woke up early to move on before being discovered by the local ranger.

We had a morning’s scratch around the town and along the coast before following the Macleay River on its north bank back towards the Pacific highway. Along this road we stopped for a break and got talking to Peter, a local man-of-many-useful-trades. Peter and his partner Sonya, with whom we swapped notes about the political agency of growing your own food, later met us up the road with some of their home grown produce. Thanks sweet couple!

With our food pannier full to the brim we were back on the Pacific and soon cursing the way the shoulders kept disappearing, sighing with relief when they would reappear. It was along this section of road that we bumped into southbound American David, only the fifth cycle tourist we’ve seen in four and a half months.

Remarkably (and unrelated to David) a few minutes later came Phil, our sixth. We held a brief cycle touring conference. Phil was travelling with his suitcase and a folding bike, a novel approach to touring although, he said, it was a bit limiting because of the drag.

We parted ways with these solo southbounders and a little further on stopped for lunch, hard boiling Peter and Sonya’s organic duck eggs and devouring their delicious cucumbers.

It was only after lunch that we noticed the tandem had what was to be our first puncture, over 2100 kms into the trip.

We fitted the spare tube and headed to Nambucca heads, only to get another puncture in the same tyre on arrival. With our late entrance into the town and with threatening storm clouds brewing we booked into our first budget-breaking motel, for the sake of a bath.

The heavens opened overnight, while we attended to fixing the tubes, making dinner, washing clothes and bodies and indulging in a spot of bedroom TV. But after this brief sojourn into civility we were keen to get back to what we love doing best,

riding to the beautiful Valla Beach,

where we were again treated to some very heavy rain overnight and were thankful for the community shelter, in yet another non-camping reserve, to dry out our drenched tents the next morning.

After all these months of thinking about where we might land on this trip, Bellingen was always going to be a place of special interest. We let our bikes glide us into the town and guide us intuitively to a little public place where we could make lunch. Meg went into nearby Kombu, a wholefoods shop that would be included in anyone’s vision of an ecoutopia, to get a few more supplies. Meg soon came back with the proprietor, Kevin Doye, who to our pleasant surprise is one half of the awesome Bike 2 Oz couple, who Artist as Family had been inspired by years before.

Kevin and Lowanna (the over half of this wonderful duo) invited us to meet their family, shouting us an early dinner at one of the local cafés that supports local growers. It was fantastic to meet this family and share our cycle touring stories.

There is something very unique about Bellingen. Whereas there are similarities with our hometown Daylesford, things are less touristy in this mid north NSW town. Even though we have our share of wonderful things going on, Bello seems far less a tourist-pleasing spectacle, on its trajectory to environmental sustainability. Check out the town’s main vegie shop, for example. Notice the absence of packaging. Local people here don’t mind the inconvenience of lean logic, whereas at home the linage of twentieth century ‘indulgence tourism’ still poisons our community.

And then there is the twice-monthly farmers’ market, where again the emphasis is on bringing your own containers and eating locally.

There are the forageable public fruit trees, such as the avenue of orange trees planted very intentionally at the soccer fields as half time sweeteners, as well as autonomous fruit trees such as guavas, which have naturalised in the district.

Like home there are town notice boards demonstrating a rich social life.

And like home there is much needed environmental experimentation, such as the trial crop of a post crude oil fiber, fodder, fuel, food, medicine and building material plant.

We met the grower, Steve Henderson, who has close family ties with Daylesford and Hepburn, and we met the gorgeous Jay who just a few weeks before had photographed the joyous community harvest of Steve’s first crop. By chance we were lucky enough to capture Steve’s passion for industrial hemp on our little vid camera. (It’s not quite ready yet, we’ll let you know when this inspiring little snapshot becomes available).

Like home there are excellent community gardens in Bellingen,

and experienced volunteers, like these two chaps, Steve and Mark.

And like home there are many generous people, who engaged with our story. For three days we stayed with the delightful Gull, his boys Sol and Reuben, and his partner Linda, sharing food, parenting and narratives of transition.

When we left proto-utopian Bellingen we rode the back roads near promised land country,

and pitched our tents at Coffs Harbour airport

with a friend of Gull’s, Steve Hill, who runs Coffs City Skydivers and an awesome communal living environment.

With this destination we sadly farewelled Zeph, who after three months of being on the road headed home to be with his mum and his friends. We made family wrist bands using the fibre from Steve Henderson’s hemp, the method was taught to us back in Tumut by Wiradjuri ranger Shane Herrington,

and shedded tears for this growing boy’s independent departure into the skies that we older ones no longer travel.

Farewell Zeph! We’ll see you for the last three months of the trip. Thanks for everything you have brought to this adventure. We love you so sososososososososo much. And miss you already.

Our home on the road won’t be quite the same without you…